Congressional meeting on dotcom contract

Just a quick follow-up on what happened at the US [tag]Congress[/tag] meeting yesterday over the dotcom contract signed between [tag]ICANN[/tag] and [tag]VeriSign[/tag].

I haven’t found a transcript, or a webcast, or much coverage as yet. Declan McCullagh has done a good piece for ZDNet. I have also found a [tag]CFIT[/tag] summary which is strikes me is only gently biased, and a copy of Karl Auerbach’s address [pdf], which is, well, Karl Auberbach.

It seemed to be quite well attended though – top bods from VeriSign, Networks Solutions etc plus ICANN lawyer John Jeffrey. CFIT’s summary is pasted below, but check out its website for more.

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Notes from the House Committee on Small Business Hearing, “Contracting the Internet: Does ICANN Create a Barrier to Small Business?”

In a room packed to overflowing, the House Committee on Small Business today hosted the latest round of inquiry into the .com deal cut by ICANN and VeriSign.

According to CFIT spokesperson John Berard, “The hearing revealed the reasons why the adoption of the .COM deal would negatively impact the entire industry.”

The proposed contract, having drawn opposition from every corner of the Internet landscape since it was first revealed, would give VeriSign near-perpetual control of the Internet’s largest and most important database — the .COM registry, allow price increases without the need for justification and reduce oversight of the monopoly expansion of services into adjacent, competitive markets.

The tone of the hearing was set by Network Solutions CEO Champ Mitchell when he said the .COM deal “shocks the conscience.” He added that there was no need to rush to bad judgment as discussions of the future of the Memorandum of Understanding between ICANN and the Department of Commerce is underway and the current .com contract is not scheduled to end until next Fall.

Former Member of Congress Rick White, now a member of VeriSign’s Internet Advisory Board, defended the .COM deal. He raised the “stability and security” flag in hoping to get the Committee to rally around it, but lost a bit of ground when he asserted that the proposed deal had “no major differences” from the current contract. Mitchell made it clear, as did CFIT, that there is no objection to VeriSign having a contract to run the .com registry, but there is wide opposition to this contract.

It was former NTIA official Becky Burr, now a lawyer in private practice, who may have put the stakes best.

“Perpetual renewal is a sideshow,” Burr said. “No one objects to VeriSign’s role; the real issue is whether the dominant position can be misused. Do we want to make VeriSign the substitute Justice Department?”

In the question-and-answer period, Congresswoman Sue Kelly (R-New York) hit the competitive nail on the head when she asked, “What’s wrong with making VeriSign compete for such a dominant market position?” White said the deal was an arm’s length negotiation between private parties, but Mitchell said it was more like a deal between the regulated and the regulator.

There was a bit of levity when ICANN General Counsel John Jeffrey first said the deal had been negotiated in full view and that, just because it says VeriSign can raise prices doesn’t mean it will.

The proper level of oversight was a persistent thread on the testimony and questions. Congressman Rosco Bartlett (R-MD) , who chaired the hearing, asked a question that helps define the view of the witnesses in that regard. At its conclusion, he asked, “What should we be doing?” and helped further define the debate. While Mitchell said: “Tell commerce what you think,” White said “I wouldn’t do anything else, you’re already on dangerous ground.”

For the next two weeks, the House Committee on Small Business will accept public comments on the deal.

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Incidentally, if you feel the desire to provide your input into the process, these are the contact details:

FAX 001 202 225-3587

email smbiz@mail.house.gov:
The Hon. Donald Manzullo
Chairman
Committee on Small Business
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515